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Eating Free Range

Reflecting back on a trip to Puerto Rico, I am still intrigued by the variety of beliefs surrounding meat or animal product consumption. I remember touring my friend's family farm, where I learned first-hand about the traditional “pasture to plate” process. Being a vegetarian, I was at least comforted by the fact that the animals lived a "happy" life despite their destiny. When one of my hosts offered me a piece of fresh beef at dinner, it was quite an interesting conversation to explain my non-meat eating ways without seeming disrespectful. I could tell he had trouble understanding the concept that meat simply did not work well with my body.

Have you ever wrestled with the quandary of whether you should eat animal products? No wonder – we are bombarded with so much confusing and sometimes contradictory information regarding the pros and cons. This can be examined in two contexts: the micro-level of your own bio-individuality and the macro-level of supporting humane sustainability in the world.

When you explore your body’s protein needs from animal products, you should first consider your own bio-individuality. This refers to our genetically determined and unique nutritional requirements. I like to think that our bodies know best. Applying bio-individuality involves experimenting with different quality animal products and then listening to your body’s inner wisdom about how it feels. Various factors such as personal taste and preference, natural shape and size, blood type, metabolic rate, and genetic factors play a role in determining how much and what type of protein source will truly nourish you. Some people crave and thrive off animal products, while others feel not so good. It is up to you then, to discover what works best for your body.

In addition, the source (sustainable farms versus industrial farms) directly impacts the environment, the economy, and our social and spiritual health. Sustainable farming is a method to produce food that respects and supports the environment and local communities. These methods preserve green space, provide habitat for wildlife, and stimulate the local economy. The products are also healthier because of higher levels of “good” fats and nutrients in animals that are fed a traditional grass diet, allowed to roam freely outdoors, and have normal social interactions. Industrial farming is a large-scale method to maximize food production and profits. These methods involve the heavy use of hormones and antibiotics, unsanitary and inhumane confinement of animals, pollution, and large fossil fuel requirements. Animals are seen as commodities versus living, breathing beings. When you eat industrial-farmed animals, not only do you eat the physical toxins (hormones, antibiotics, and pesticide residues), but also the metaphysical toxins (fear, despair, and horror). This can certainly affect your social and spiritual health.

Industrial farming is often justified as a means to serve the food demands of our increasing population and may seem more cost effective in the short-term. But the hidden economic, environmental, and health costs in the longer term are often not factored in. For example, sustainable foods bought locally, minimize fuel to transport the product and serve to support local farmers and economies. Industrial farming methods lead to the destruction and depletion of our environment by deforestation for more fields to grow grain-based animal feed, contamination of our water supply from animal waste, and being the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. These methods are also linked to alarming health concerns such as increasing rates of precocious puberty, infertility, and the emergence of more antibiotic-resistant disease.

Once we slowly allow ourselves to become aware of the current state, we become empowered rather than helpless; informed rather than ignorant. We can make more conscious choices regarding the quality and quantity of our animal products. Fortunately, there are standards to help guide our choices. Labels such as organic, free-range, pasture-raised, grass-fed, and certification by the Marine Stewardship Council (for seafood) indicate more humane, and often more nutritious, animal products. Yes, it may cost more at the register and in the short-term, but what will the long-term expense be to our individual health, the economy, and the environment if we continue our current practices?

I like to consider myself a "flexible vegetarian." I have experimented with many stricter forms of eating and have realized that my body enjoys the occasional sliver of chicken or white fish, preferably from sustainable farming methods. As I am learning in my travels, there are many cultural beliefs that influence our dietary choices. Good luck explaining what a vegetarian is to my Latin elders! The best way to decide whether to eat animal products is to experiment consciously without judgment and then observe how your body feels, physically and spiritually. Honor your bio-individuality and remember to read labels to guide your choices. Try products from local farms raised in humane ways and do not be afraid to ask how their animals were treated. What we eat is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. By nourishing yourself with animal products that were not subjected to unnecessary violence and that support sustainability, you bring more peace into your own life and the world around you.

Dr. Christine Gonzalez is a holistic health coach, pharmacist, and herbalist. She works with clients on how to nourish their bodies and develop a healthy self image. She also lectures and writes on various health-related topics. Contact her at or visit for more information on her Nourishing Balanced Energy program.